Drew Talk: Finding Common Ground After a Shooting
Community group arises after 2012 attack on Sikh temple.
March 2017 – You’d be hard pressed to imagine a more unlikely pair than Pardeep Kaleka and Arno Michaelis.
Kaleka, a former cop turned teacher turned psychologist, is the son of Satwant Singh Kaleka, the religious leader who was gunned down with five others in 2012 during an attack by a neo-Nazi at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Michaelis, a former white supremacist, co-founded the world’s largest racist skinhead organization and was lead singer of the hate-metal band Centurion.
Still, the two came together after Oak Creek to build a community group dedicated to creating peacemakers. They spoke about their extraordinary partnership during Drew University’s annual Shirley Sugerman Interfaith Forum, which is presented by the school’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict.
After the shooting, Kaleka founded the Milwaukee-based organization Serve2Unite, rooted in the guiding Sikh principle of service to others and aimed at encouraging a new generation of peacemakers. Shortly thereafter, Kaleka reached out to Michaelis, author of the 2010 memoir My Life After Hate, to understand the motivation for the temple attack. “The police told me what happened,” Kaleka explained, “but I needed to know why it happened.”
For Michaelis, who learned that the temple gunman was a member of the hate group he’d helped to found, the meeting was part of what he described as “an ongoing process of self-forgiveness.” The men approached each other with trepidation about the possibility of finding common ground, but bonded immediately. They’ve been friends—and colleagues in Serve2Unite—ever since.
The organization, a 2016 recipient of Hofstra University’s Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, has helped launch more than 600 student leadership chapters in Milwaukee schools. Through service learning—an integration of community service and education about the need for that service—participating students from second grade through college have developed dozens of projects that seek to build a more inclusive and peaceful community.
During the talk, Kaleka described service as “one of the great unifiers across cultures.” In fact, unification through understanding was the evening’s overarching theme. As Kaleda highlighted the achievements of Serve2Unite students—helping veterans with PTSD, raising money to cure diseases, aiding the homeless, advocating for victims of human trafficking—he emphasized the power of hope over fear. “Together,” he said, “we can do amazing things.”